In the context of the sermon this past Sunday, I made the observation that when I pray the Lord’s Prayer there are times when it just often rolls off my tongue so easily that I hardly even notice it. Then every once in a while, I’ll hear something as I pray it, and I’m stopped dead.
The next day Colleen Peters sent along the following reflection on this great prayer, written by Frederick Buechner and originally published in his book Whistling in the Dark: a Doubter’s Dictionary. If you’ve never read any of Buechner’s work, this might just inspire you to dig in a little deeper:
In the Episcopal [Anglican] order of worship, the priest sometimes introduces the Lord’s Prayer with the words, “Now, as our Saviour Christ hath taught us, we are bold to say…” The word bold is worth thinking about. We do well not to pray the prayer lightly. It takes guts to pray it at all. We can pray it in the unthinking and perfunctory way we usually do only by disregarding what we are saying.
“Thy will be done” is what we are saying. That is the climax of the first half of the prayer. We are asking God to be God. We are asking God to do not what we want but what God wants. We are asking God to make manifest the holiness that is now mostly hidden, to set free in all its terrible splendor the devastating power that is now mostly under restraint. “Thy kingdom come… on earth” is what we are saying. And if that were suddenly to happen, what then? What would stand and what fall? Who would be welcomed in and who would be thrown the hell out? Which if any of our most precious visions of what God is and of what human beings are would prove to be more or less on the mark and which would turn out to be phony as three-dollar bills? Boldness indeed. To speak those words is to invite the tiger out of the cage, to unleash a power that makes atomic power look like a warm breeze.
You need to be bold in another way to speak the second half. Give us. Forgive us. Don’t test us. Deliver us. If it takes guts to face the omnipotence that is God’s, it perhaps takes no less to face the impotence that is ours. We can do nothing without God. We can have nothing without God. Without God we are nothing.
It is only the words “Our Father” that make the prayer bearable. If God is indeed something like a father, then as something like children maybe we can risk approaching him anyway. – Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking
You might notice, by the way, that Buechner writes how in the Anglican liturgy the priest often introduces the prayer by saying, “Now, as our Saviour Christ hath taught us, we are bold to say,” while at saint benedict’s table I always change the word “say” to “pray.” We are bold to pray, because to my mind such words really must be prayed, not simply spoken. It is when we pray them that they do their deep and at times unsettling work, reminding us that there is yet work to be done. And thankfully, this God of ours knows us the way a parent knows a child…
Whistling in the Dark is a great introduction to Buechner’s writing, as is a similar collection of short pieces called Wishful Thinking: a seeker’s ABC. You can also watch an excerpt from a film on Buechner’s life and work by clicking here.